Too Much Beer, You Say? Pshaw!

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

We interrupt today’s regularly scheduled blog post about the Beer Bloggers Conference ’13 for some breaking news. Splashed all over my newsfeed today is a report written by Ken Christensen in Crain’s New York Business sounding the alarm that there is over-saturation in the New York City craft beer market and the bubble is about to burst!

Quick, hide your kegs hide your BCS… craft beer is hitting a saturation point!

Whoa, there, Bessie! Let’s just take a little looksie, shall we, at the claims that portend such devastating news for local beer drinkers.

The article quotes Manhattan Beer’s Robert Mitchell, who harkens back to the 1990s shake-out of the craft beer industry, and claims “there’s clearly not enough room at the table…”

Interestingly, Ray Daniels, Founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, refuted this very thought a mere 24 hours ago at the BBC. During his keynote address, he said there were two main causes for the 90s contraction:

  1. Anheuser-Busch made a calculated stink about Sam Adams/Boston Beer not brewing in Boston, which caused a major PR fallout for craft brewers trying to present themselves as “the little local guy”;
  2. The beer sucked.

Daniels (not alone in this opinion) actually said the second issue was the real reason why craft beer in America blew up almost 20 years ago. No one wanted to take a chance on new beers, because the last new beer they had was terrible. The 2013 new beers are invariably high quality when it comes to craft beer that is distributed and marketed for off-site consumption (i.e. non-brewpub beer).

Which brings us to “saturation,” a point that Christensen seems to believe we’ve reached. He writes,

“(NYC craft brewers) need to find a place to sell their brew, too—and face competition from about 100 craft breweries in the rest of the state and 2,600 across the country, according to the Brewers Association.”

Those numbers do not hold up. In fact, the Brewers Association breaks down breweries by brewpub (i.e. only selling for onsite consumption, with a few growlers possibly walking out the door), microbreweries (which may well be self-distributing a handful of kegs each week to the neighborhood bars) and regional craft breweries. Only this latter group will profoundly impact the market saturation. In fact, from 2011 to 2012, the US saw only eight new regional craft breweries come online (while non-craft breweries barely changed, losing one brewery). The number of true nationwide breweries that make up Christensen’s 2,600 that will make an impact outside their immediate geographic region are a mere handful.

If you look at the largest number of “breweries,” you’ll find that from 2,416 existing breweries (all types as of March 2013) nationwide, 1,124—nearly half of all breweries in America—were brewpubs. Not only are these brewpubs not going to be major factors in the beer wars, their numbers are unlikely to change. The average life expectancy of any restaurant in this country is not particularly long. For every new brewpub that comes into existence, chances are overwhelming that another one will go out of business.

With regards to the 1,139 microbreweries that make up the other half of the extreme craft beer growth, a slow, steady business model that takes years to establish profitably is probably more likely to be the case than an overrun of the market. A prime example is Rockaway, which puts out 12 kegs a week on a two-barrel system. While Christenen quotes Ethan Long, his co-founding partner, Marcus Burnett, recently told me that the brewery is happy with their current rate of growth, and they have no immediate expansion plans; again, this microbrewer is satisfied with the street traffic and local restaurant scene.

Now let’s look at the numbers that came out from the Brewers Association today regarding drinking habits. “American craft beer dollar sales and volume were up 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively,” the BA announced. This despite the fact that overall beer sales are down, meaning more beer drinkers are switching to craft beer.

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Finally, consider that per capita, New York State ranks 39th in the nation for breweries based on population. Our nearest neighbors rank 45th (New Jersey) and 33rd (Connecticut). We are nowhere near the capacity of Vermont (#1) or Colorado (#2).

And speaking of Colorado, has Crain’s New York Business looked at the economy of Denver recently? It’s booming, and it’s doing so under the leadership of a former brewer Governor! This country needs entrepreneurship. It needs jobs! Especially in NYC.

Anything that brings in more business opportunities to a city whose median household income (2010 census) is a mere $57,000 sounds good to this Bitch. And craft beer is creating those jobs, not just in breweries and pubs, but in advocacy and marketing and accessories (one can never have too many koozies!). Keep in mind that craft beer lobbyists and public beer advocates such as the New York City Brewers Guild and Patriot Craft Alliance didn’t exist back during the last craft beer growth spurt.

So, while I’m no glass-half-full Pollyanna, I embrace the “onslaught.” I say, there’s plenty of peeps in NYC to drink what all the new brewers have to offer. Just make sure it’s made with the best ingredients (preferably local when feasible), and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble at all selling your stock.

Rockaway Brewing: Bringing Beer Back To Queens

tapsThey may only be working a two-barrel system that generates a mere 12 kegs per week, but Rockaway Brewing Company is quickly losing its status as Queens’ best-kept beer secret. Now that the LIC Food & Flea is in session, the growler-only shop has its unofficial “tasting room” across the street, where Flea-goers can drink Rockaway Pale Ale or English ESB in a plastic to-go cup while browsing for cool chandeliers and apartment accessories, or paired with the many food options the Flea is serving up.


It’s been four years since co-founders and brewers Marcus Burnett and Ethan Long started brewing in their Far Rockaway beach bungalow backyard, but the true impact on the Queens brew scene cannot be overstated. Queens now has several licensed craft breweries, but it was Marcus and Ethan who launched the renaissance back in 2009. They finally were able to distribute city-wide when they opened the brew house in Long Island City last year.

coolerAnd the brewery has progress a long way from the days when they were carting nano-kegs on their bikes. Marcus admits that despite the limited number of kegs, several of NYC’s beer distributors have approached him to carry Rockaway beers. Thanks to the weekend foot traffic, the brew house is regularly selling out its stock with no need for wider distribution channels. Of course, they maintain their presence in the Rockaways, where restaurants with long-term Rockaway Brewing connects have fought back this summer post-Sandy. You can still find Rockaway beers stocked at Rockaway Taco and Caracas.

The brew house itself is largely a DIY set-up that harkens back to the brewers’ homebrew days out on the beach. From the grinder to the cleaning system, Marcus and Ethan have created a brewery for pennies on the multi-thousand-dollar. It’s a truly cool space that anyone brewing in an apartment will appreciate, and a far cry from the traditional setups of larger brewers in the city.

For now, anyhow, Rockaway Brewing is going to maintain its nano roots, and keep bringing great beer to the small masses of Queens.

Rockaway Brewing’s brew house is located at 46-01 5th Street (that’s the corner of 5th St. and 46th Ave., for those who don’t speak “Queens”), and open Friday 3-8PM and Saturday-Sunday 11AM-4PM.

Meet Rockaway Brewing Company’s Marcus and Ethan

Co-owners (and brewers) Marcus Burnett and Ethan Long during happier times in Rockaway - i.e. pre-Sandy.

Co-owners (and brewers) Marcus Burnett and Ethan Long during happier times in Rockaway – i.e. pre-Sandy.

If you are interested in local brewers, then you have double the love next week with Rockaway Brewing Company. On Monday, brewer and co-owner Marcus Burnett will be in the house for our Nano-beer Vegetarian Nonsense™ Dinner (only a few tickets remain, so get yours here). Then on Wednesday we’ll have a special Rockaway Brewing night with the launch of their new beer, Hi-Plains Drifter Scottish Ale!

Marcus was nice enough to check in by phone this week to preview NYC Beer Week and what he’ll be bringing to Monday’s beer dinner (hit: it’s hoppy, and you can’t find it anywhere else!).

What was the first beer you ever drank and the circumstances?

The first beer I really enjoyed as and English Bitter Ale I tried in Surrey, England, when I was staying with my uncle when I was 14. It was the classic English countryside with sheep farms and rolling hills.

When did you realize that your “homebrew” was ready for primetime (i.e. consumer worthy)?

When Ethan (Long, co-owner) and I realized we’d rather drink our own beers rather than any other beer, that’s when we decided to open a brewery. The first eight months we only brewed that one beer, our ESB. Now we officially have three beers—ESB, Porter, Stout—with two more premiering at Jimmy’s No. 43 next week (Scottish Ale and IPA).

How did you and Ethan decide to launch a brewery together?

We had similar professions, so we knew each other. I was doing cinematography/photography while Ethan was a set designer. We also had bungalows nearby each other out on Far Rockaway. [Editor’s Note: Neither brewer’s home was destroyed during Sandy.] We started brewing together and, eventually, opening the brewery together.

Cans, bottles or keg-only? Explain your answer.

We only do kegs. I don’t have the patience to do individual bottles, and we don’t have the money to get a canning or bottling line. Besides, I enjoy beer on draft more than from a bottle.

What is your desert island beer (i.e. if you could only drink one beer—or one brewer’s selection—for the rest of your life, what would it be and why)?

If I had four taps of Founder’s, I’d probably be okay for awhile. They’re making really solid and palatable beers.

What’s your biggest challenge as a nano-brewer?

Our biggest challenge is expanding at the right pace, keeping up production with demand. Sometimes we have plenty of beer on hand; sometimes we don’t have any. We’re pretty much at capacity now, so we need to consider what we do next. Also, we want to come up with enough styles to satisfy our clients. Lots of craft beer bars always want the next new thing. That’s something we love about Jimmy’s No. 43. It’s more about consistent quality than just having something new to offer.

What else do you want us to know about Rockaway Brewing Company?

Our company really represents the hope for the American Dream. As homebrewers, we really didn’t have any money. Everybody said, “You can’t do a brewery with a two-barrel system.” I thought, “You can’t tell me what to do.” In some ways, of course, they were right, but we’re not trying to be something we’re not. We love what we do and the beer we’re making at our current rate of production.